Komorebi Post– According to Shanghai Ranking’s Academic Ranking of World Universities 2018, the University of Belgrade is ranked as one of the 500 best universities. Compared to 2016 and 2017 results, it was a drop-in rank from 201-300 place to 300-400 in 2018. Nonetheless, being among the best universities in the world seems like a great success for a small country like Serbia. Someone might even think that the educational system of Serbia is working just fine. However, rankings are often misleading and do not provide a complete insight into the problems of the educational system.
For ten years, as a high school teacher in Serbia, I could identify four main causes of the poor educational system: unsuccessful reforms, insufficient investment in education, partocracy, and corruption. All these flaws are always interconnected.
During the 1990s, Serbia began the transition from a communist to a democratic society. At that time, the first private schools and universities were established. However, the competition between state and private schools did not bring better education. On the contrary, private schools were shaped according to the needs of the newly established transitional elite – as a place where one can buy a diploma. In a talk show, one of the former presidents who graduated and obtained a master‘s degree in his late fifties was not able to specify neither the title of his Study Programme nor his master’s thesis. Also, the head master of a private school became the Minister of Education. At that moment, the son of another President was his student. Despite public outrage over conflicts of interest, he remained in power thanks to political support. Two years in a row, answers for elementary school final exams could be bought in a street market for c. $10. Needless to say, participants in corruption and plagiarism are rarely punished.
Partocracy also affects public schools and state universities. Almost all school directors must be members of the ruling party. This also applies to new employees who are often forced to attend party meetings and rallies to keep the job. Government education expenditure is very low, around 4% of GDP. Since Serbian GDP is very low, this amount is insufficient to provide good-quality education. Classrooms are overcrowded, often with more than 30 students. Under such conditions, teachers cannot devote enough time to all of their students. Many school buildings are in very bad state, with humidity, insufficient heating, and poor sanitation. Students consider lectures as old-fashioned and uninteresting. Teachers have become demotivated with salaries that are 20% lower than average. There were several attempts to reform the school system, but none was fully implemented nor externally evaluated. The real consequences of education negligence will be visible in the years to come.
When knowledge is not appreciated, education is not considered as an investment for the future, but an unnecessary expense. Underpaid and humiliated, some teachers decided to leave school in a search for a better job. Those who could not find it left the country. From time to time, I hear news of former colleagues. A physics professor maintains elevators in Germany, geography teacher works as a bartender in Malta. A few weeks ago, there was a news story, about a bus driver in Milwaukee who rescued a baby in the street. Until 2006, she was a teacher in Serbia. Who knows, maybe your cashier is just another unlucky math teacher!!